Swelter 23

Admittedly, the perks are great in this job but it can work on your nerves, and everyone seems to being trapped in an interactive mystery thriller. Nothing is quite what it seems. No one knows what's going on, who to trust, or where their enemies are. And everyone lies, friend and foe alike. Deception, particularly the quiet lies you tell to yourself, is considered an acceptable survival skill in the psychic pinball parlor of society. But even in downtown society there's a curious protocol to the derangement, and sometimes life is better lived -- and commented upon -- within the sanctified ground of anonymity.

A case in point being a recent spate of conceptual research on South Beach, the laboratory of human dysfunction. As standard operating procedure, an evening with vaguely important people -- bold-face journalists, promoters, and the highly decorative -- commences at yet another chanterelle-inflicted big-deal restaurant. Also as usual someone else is picking up the tab, our host being an intelligent club owner of some local repute. Other patrons of this season's trendy feeding trough are gazing longingly at the table's visual tone, replete with minor celebs and the plugged-into-the-moment crowd; typically, the A-list is simply hustling one another, immersed in the stench of the commercial. Despite all the rampant public envy, we're privately thinking that our companions are absolutely nuts and, worse yet, vulgar, in a quiet kind of way. As all of our parents warned, there's no such thing as a free lunch.

And so it's a quest for nonattitudinal air, a gossipy chat in the kitchen proving to be thoroughly absorbing. According to an informed source, the owner's been fucking one of the pastry cooks; the chef's been popping a newly emboldened maitresse d', an overreaching chippie formerly of clubland; and aside from everything else, two of the waiters have some kind of obsessive-compulsive thing going on. Once again everyone everywhere seems to be having more sex than the hierarchy of hip.

Back at the table, we promptly issue a public-service announcement -- watch out for traces of vintage semen -- as the host dismisses other clubs for lacking true balls: the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight that infested the old Mickey's, a couple of other establishments where the owners are "New Jersey union officials who think they're connected because they shook hands with a real mobster once." Naturally, our host's benefactor, a kingpin of the northeast triangle, is roundly proclaimed a true, no-bullshit wise guy of the old school. Accordingly the press, through guilt by association, is connected as well, all of our coverage feeding the maw of organized crime, along with assorted pushers, pimps, charlatans, and hucksters. In this particular instance, the profits of publicity aren't even being plowed back into the local economy.

If nothing else, dinner has established a critical jumping-off point -- none of us has any pride -- and a Washington Avenue slumming tour, naturally enough, suddenly seems like a great idea. For some reason, people puking, passing out, and fucking on the streets always puts you in the mood for a night on the town. First stop, one cheap glitz joint or another, this year's crop of models hovering around like decorative barflies, inviting us into some sugar daddy's limo. Same old shit, really, and we opt for some fresh air with the proles on Ocean Drive, railing about the incessant backdrop of catered beauties -- God help us.

Inevitably, a sally into heady arrogance immediately punished by a trio of gang boys up to no good, hissing unpleasantries: "Yo, fat boy, what are you lookin' at?" They must not have been fans. A mixed-metaphor theme continuing on the drive home at some ungodly hour: the cheering note of a stray wastrel chanting our good name from an open convertible, a drunk driver suddenly swerving across the road, missing our little car by inches. Live by the column, die by the column.

Yet again, ashamed and deeply shocked by our appetite for degradation -- for a day or two at least -- and then it's back to regular office hours. Somehow this week's upmarket offerings lacked the necessary seductive qualities. In Coral Gables, the Bill Cosford Cinema at the University of Miami debuted with the much-acclaimed Living in Oblivion, and Le Festival celebrated its twentieth anniversary with a gala dinner for the planned Performing Arts Center of Greater Miami, all the arts organizations turning out for a grand powwow. Mr. and Mrs. Bong Namkoong cordially invited us to dinner at Kaori Japanese Restaurant within fortress Amnesia, but openings are too much like real work. And while more tony than the Beach, Coral Gables always brings back too-many-to-mention regrets of youthful lameness at No Sex High. These days, as a half-dead executive in the nightlife industries -- where complimentary carnality is part of the open-bar package -- the whole matter has lost a certain allure.

However, information is still sexy, and spermatozoa of pop news just keep gushing over the desk. Monty's Stone Crab and Seafood House in negotiations for the now-defunct Nick's Miami Beach, everyone concerned hoping to close a deal by the end of the month. Jon Becker and Ernie Bogen, of the Palace Bar & Grill as well as the Compass Cafe and Market, take over the WPA space and will reopen it October 4 as the Washington Tavern, microbrewed beers and all. One of our more glamorous friends having trouble getting a reservation for a weekend dinner at the Delano and then discovering a vast accumulation of human flotsam milling around the lobby: Hialeah families pawing furniture, frat boys on a quiet spree, as are all the other unacceptables the hotel was supposed to intimidate and exclude. Miami finally gets something beautiful and we trash the place, invoking our right to defy snotty New Yorkers and establish another beachhead of bad taste -- this city would have made Genghis Khan retire from the fray.

On the fame beat, the house of Versace turns into a hothouse version of Bloomsbury, one of the Gianni crowd finding time amid a pressing social schedule to write an AIDS-related play called Unexpected Turns. Rosario Kennedy, one of the great hook-up artists/glamour-gal survivors of Miami, apparently having a lot to do with Sylvester Stallone's contribution to the Gusman Performing Arts Center -- finally, a rich man who's not afraid to spend money. Rosie O'Donnell, while chatting with her fans on America Online, mentions that she's coming to Miami for the weekend -- celebrity stalking enters the realm of cyberspace. The cast of Striptease, from Demi Moore on down, throws a party in Fort Lauderdale -- Rosie as comic relief? A but anything north of the county line requires an actual invitation.

As it happens, we were on the list for a celebrity-sells reception at the Colony Theater, the Visigoths of development using Vanilla Ice -- opening To the Extreme this Saturday -- and Michael Caine, who's building a restaurant in the old Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall, to hype their vision of architectural Armageddon. Chinatown with celebrities, both a personal matter with us -- an earthmover has been operating about ten feet from our office window lately -- and a point of local contention, Lincoln Road being the last haven of organic civilization in Miami. Now the frenzy of greed is everywhere, as they turn paradise into a hideous theme park, with the ostensible reasoning being that the infrastructure needs to be upgraded anyway. Strange, since in our seven years of renting an office, back to an era when the place was a terminal gulag of desolation, no one's ever complained of major utility problems.

But then there are all those city-owned parking lots behind the storefronts, ripe for a whole row of shopping malls atop garages. None of it really matters, of course, and the future, an eminent domain of fame and profit, will roll over everybody. In the meantime, outside the Miami City Ballet studio, the same old group assembles to watch the dancers A yuppie scum, a bum playing with himself, some religious penitent holding aloft a cross inscribed with "Prophets are considered fools" A as a Schwarzeneggerian Hummer, the symbol of toxic Los Angeles, idles menacingly at a stoplight. And up and down the road, the camera crews and paparazzi swarm to another photo op for the new millennium. The final Pied Piper, who leads all the rats and foolish children to the big bang, will be famous, blessed, and loved by all.


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